Edmonton-Manning MLA Peter Sandhu has resigned from the Progressive Conservative Caucus after a CBC investigation revealed that a company owned by the politician had accumulated a trail of unpaid debt. The report, by investigative reporter Charles Rusnell, also found that Mr. Sandhu made a false statement in a sworn affidavit.
It is not uncommon for Tory MLAs to face investigations by the ethics commissioner, but it is uncommon for Tory MLAs to actually resign from the Government caucus because of these investigations.
Mr. Sandhu’s resignation shows how different Alberta’s political environment has become in recent years. The Wildrose Official Opposition is waging a permanent aggressive campaign against the Tories, something the long-governing party is not accustomed to. And with Premier Alison Redford facing an internal party leadership review in November, the Tories are desperately trying to avoid the kind of embarrassing controversies that dominated the political narrative in 2012.
As far as I can recollect, the last Tory MLA to resign because of an ethics scandal was in 2001, when former cabinet minister Robert “Butch” Fischerquit as the MLA for Wainwright after being investigated for a breach of ethics regarding a private business deal.
Mr. Sandhu was first elected in Edmonton-Manning in 2008, defeating Independent MLA Dan Backs, who had been kicked out of the Liberal caucus in 2006 (Mr. Backs challenged Mr. Sandhu, and was defeated, in the PC nomination contest).
Westward, support for Premier Christy Clark‘s Liberal Party surged in yesterday’s British Columbia provincial election, leaving Adrian Dix‘s New Democrats in the dust. Long expected to form government in this year’s vote, the NDP were only able to elect 33 MLAs, compared to 50 for the Liberals. The only win the NDP are likely to celebrate is the defeat of Premier Clark in her own Vancouver-Point Grey constituency against newly elected NDP MLA David Eby.
One month ago, Premier Alison Redford took to the airwaves to warn Albertans about the revenue problem, or ‘bitumen bubble‘, the government will face in the 2013 provincial budget. The Premier cited the lack of pipelines pumping bitumen from our oilsands to external markets as a reason for the low price of Alberta oil and her government’s lack of resource revenues. Alberta had a revenue problem.
For the first time in recent memory, Alberta’s revenue problem was at the top of political discourse in our province. The government held a symposium to hear from experts about Alberta’s fiscal framework, but at the same time ruled out the return of health premiums and denied any rumours of a provincial sales tax (which, in fairness, would have been as popular as introducing rats into the province).
Two reasonable solutions that did not get enough attention were to increase the revenues from natural resources and to replace the Klein-era ‘flat-tax’ with a progressive taxation system that could collect more revenue without penalizing low- and middle-income Albertans.
It is hard not to point out that the group of individuals currently in a position to solve this problem are also the architects of our government’s short-sighted fiscal planning: Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives.
Now let us shift to the pipeline debate and what the Premer says is the source of our (now former?) revenue problem: Alberta’s pipeline problem.
After years of campaigns targeting Alberta’s tarsands as a major contributor to climate change, our oilsands are an easy political target for opponents of two major pipelines. Large protests across the United States last week have put the future of the Keystone XL Pipeline in question and a near political consensus in British Columbia against the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline suggests a pipeline through that province is unlikely to be built anytime in the near future.
Premier Redford’s cause is not without political allies south of the border. The Keystone XL Pipeline has the support of a dozen United States Governors and TransCanada claims the southern section of the pipeline, through Texas and Oklahoma, is already half-complete.
Many critics of the Keystone XL pipeline have focused on climate change, raised legitimate concerns about the devastating environmental impact of pipelines leaks, and poked holes in the number of jobs pipeline proponents have promised to create.
It has been speculated that having these two large and influential constituent groups on opposite sides of this debate could make it increasingly difficult for President Barack Obama to approve the pipeline’s construction over the American border with Canada.
“Frosty” was the word used to describe the meeting between Alberta Premier Alison Redford and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark in Calgary this week. The two provincial Premiers have spent the summer months clashing over the proposed construction of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. Premier Redford supports the pipeline, Premier Clark opposes it.
I have two thoughts this week about Premier Clark’s visit to Calgary and the continued debate around the pipeline:
1)Reacting to the BC Liberals drop in the polls, Premier Clark was speaking to British Columbians as she visited Calgary. She is standing up to those oil-thirsty Albertans by waving the BC flag in Calgary. If she is re-elected, I would not be surprised to see Premier Clark return to her free-market principles and support the pipeline.
2) The BC New Democrats have already firmly claimed the anti-pipeline territory that Premier Clark is now trying to claim. This does not necessarily mean a future government led by NDP leader Adrian Dix will not be open to negotiating a better deal or alternative route for the Northern Gateway Pipeline in the future.
While I am an outside observer to BC politics, I would not be shocked to see an NDP government support a future deal for the Northern Gateway Pipeline that they could trumpet as a job creator and celebrate as better deal than the previous BC Liberal government could negotiate.
It would appear that the both the BC NDP and the energy industry, which have significant investments in Alberta’s oil sands, are interested in improving their working relationship in the event Mr. Dix becomes Premier of BC after next year’s election.
As I wrote earlier this week, Premier Redford may have to wait for an NDP Premier to be elected in BC before a more pragmatic discussion around the Northern Gateway Pipeline can occur.
Under past Premiers Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach, and Gordon Campbell, the conservative governments of Canada’s two western-most provinces enjoyed very friendly relationships. Vocal opposition to the pipeline, largely based around concerns about environmental impact and the transit of large oil tankers through the narrow Douglas Straight, has pushed the normally free-market loving BC Liberals away from the project. Premier Clark is also facing a strong NDP opposition. According to the latest poll, Adrian Dix‘s NDP sits 17% ahead of the BC Liberals.
With the next BC provincial election set for May 14, 2013, Premier Redford may want to start outreaching to Mr. Dix in hopes that his party might take a pragmatic approach and soften its stance on the Northern Gateway Pipeline if it forms government.
Earlier this year, Mr. Boessenkool left his job at the public relations and lobbyist company Hill & Knowlton and his position with the newly formed ‘Alberta Blue Committee‘ to run the Premier’s Office in Victoria.
When word first broke that a leaky pipeline near the central Alberta town of Sundre had poured an estimated 1000 to 3000 barrels of oil into a tributary of the Red Deer River, Premier Alison Redford was quick to respond. That afternoon, the Premier, flanked by Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Diana McQueen and local Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin, held a media conference near the location of the spill.
Despite the quick response, which is a change from the days when it felt like these types of leaks were publicly ignored by our political leaders, Premier Redford’s media conference cannot change the fact that oil spills and leaking pipelines have already become a regularly reported occurrence in Alberta. The latest leak comes at a crucial time when the Government of Alberta and Enbridge Inc are pushing the construction of a new oil pipeline that would travel through Alberta and British Columbia to the port at Kitimat.
As the Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson has pointed out, the latest leak only confirms the suspicions and fears that some British Columbians have about the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline:
B.C. will only agree to the pipeline if the economic benefits outweigh the environmental risk. That is an argument the Alberta government has not managed to put forward.
In the land of political spin, Enbridge spokesperson Paul Stanway claimed last week that the company had secured the support for the pipeline from 60% of First Nations communities along the proposed corridor. The Coastal First Nations group disputed that number, accusing Enbridge of expanding its corridor by 80 kilometres to boost the number of supporters. The group claimed many of the First Nations listed by Enbridge as supporters are located outside of any area that could be impacted by a potential spill.
Readers of this blog may remember Mr. Stanway from his previous roles as columnist and publisher at the Edmonton Sun and communications director to former Premier Ed Stelmach from 2007 until 2010.
Although the next federal election could be nearly three years away, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is capitalizing on the concerns central Canadian and British Columbian voters about the effect of oilsands development on the environment and its effects on traditional manufacturing industries (a la Dutch Disease). Everyone from former Reform Party leader Preston Manning to former Prime Ministers Paul Martin and Brian Mulroneyhavechimedin to criticize Mr. Mulcair.
As Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s Conservatives have proven numerous times over the past nine years, leveraging social and regional wedge issues can lead to great electoral success. Mr. Mulcair would be foolish not to take a page from Prime Minister Harper’s book. While conservative pundits and politicians denounced Mr. Mulcair’s criticisms, the political strategy, at least in the short-term, does not appear to have hurt NDP chances in voter-rich regions outside the prairie provinces. A recent poll showed the federal NDP in a statistical tie with the governing Ottawa Conservatives.
In a media release distributed this morning, provincial NDP leader Brian Mason was quoted as saying “Tom and I had a conversation over the phone a couple of days ago, and I invited him to come to Alberta. I’m pleased that he agreed to come.”
The federal NDP currently have only one Member of Parliament from Alberta and it is likely that Edmonton-Strathcona MP Linda Duncan will play a prominent role in Mr. Mulcair’s day-trip to Alberta. During the recent provincial election, a number of NDP MP’s, including Olivia Chow, Jack Harris, Niki Ashton, and Peter Julian, visited the province to campaign alongside their provincial colleagues.
While the provincial NDP recently made electoral gains in Edmonton, doubling their caucus from 2 to 4 MLA’s, the party still faces tough criticism for perceived anti-oilsands positions. During the campaign, Mr. Mason argued that Alberta’s economy would benefit from building bitumen refineries in-province rather than shipping unrefined product internationally through pipelines and ocean tankers.
While Mr. Mulcair’s comments will be a topic of small chat amongst the Premier’s and their staff, the topic of pipelines and international markets will likely be a hot topic on the agenda. As the only current NDP leader in government in western Canada, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger might be the closest person Mr. Mulcair has as an ally at this meeting.